The whole point of making beautiful, useful things is getting them into the hands of people who want and need them. Ideally, as efficiently as possible.
At this point in time, the ways and means of getting the products of cottage industry into the hands of consumers efficiently are a little murky. The distribution system for cottage industry is generally pretty different from that of items mass-produced or produced by large companies. There is, for the most part, no efficient distribution system. There are, of course, exceptions. Small gourmet food companies, for example, can sometimes find a way into the larger distribution system, and a place on the shelves of large chain stores. But that’s not true for the vast majority, and in any case I’m not sure it’s really the goal.
My personal inspiration is Bubbles, in Arcata, California. The Bubbles shop has been around FOREVER (well, since 1973), and there’s a good reason for this. For the many years that I lived in Arcata, Bubbles was my source for glycerine soap and body lotion. Why? Because it’s the best, and because I could afford it. They make their own soap and lotion, and they price it as if people are going to use it every day (which I did). Sure, they have unique, fun, and extravagant gift items — some they make, some they don’t — and those things are generally more expensive than the everyday stuff. But the everyday stuff is awesome, and even though you can get cheaper soap at Safeway or CVS, it’s so worth it to pay just a little bit more to get the magic: high quality products made by people who are passionate about what they do, and who live in my own community. I still load up on Bubbles whenever I go back to Arcata for a visit.
Now, If I could have anything I wanted, there would be a distribution system for getting items from small producers anywhere in the world, to small outlets (stores) anywhere in the world. But that system, as far as I know, doesn’t exist.
So, we have to look to the currently valid options for cottage industries to get their products to the public in a way that is profitable, and beneficial for consumers.
Below, you will find ideas for ways that buyers and shoppers can find each other. They are broken down into general categories. I have also tried to provide resources to help
As always, this is a work in progress.
Like every mode of distribution and sales, the world of online marketplaces has its pros and cons. People much more qualified than I am have written volumes on the subject, and so I will leave it to them (see some resources adjacent).
For me, as both a seller and a consumer, the biggest trade-off that I experience is between the potential for a much larger customer base, and the difficulty of getting noticed and making a connection with customers.
A physical marketplace has the opposite trade-off than that of the online marketplace: it is easier to get noticed by the customer base, but the customer base is much smaller.